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PM: Can I start by saying happy New Year. Happy New Year to Jenny Macklin who has joined me here today and happy New Year to Australians. And today is not only a great day to say to happy New Year, it's a date to be celebrating a historic day for Australians families.
Today is the start of our paid parental leave scheme, it is making history, history for mums and dads, for babies and for employers. Finally Australia has a paid parental leave scheme which will make a difference for working families, make a difference with that extra bit of support at the time of the birth of a new child, make a difference so that mums and dads can spend more time at home with their new baby, make a difference for employers because it's part of keeping that all important connection between work and skilled staff who are attending to family responsibilities.
We had the great pleasure today of meeting baby Hirani, baby Hirani born in this hospital around 2AM this morning - a New Years Day baby – and baby Hirani and baby Hirani's parents will receive paid parental leave. We've been talking to Anjna, the mother of baby Hirani, a working mother who will now have the benefit of paid parental leave.
So it's a good day to be celebrating a new year, it's also a great day to be celebrating the start of paid parental leave. I'll turn to Jenny Macklin for some comments.
MINISTER MACKLIN: Thanks very much Julia and happy New Year to everybody and particularly happy New Year to all those mums and dads who are now going to be eligible for Australia's first national paid parental leave scheme. We've just met one of the first mothers who will be eligible for paid parental leave here at Westmead hospital, and she's just told us what it means for her. It means that she's going to be able to take 18 weeks of paid leave, paid at the federal minimum wage, around $570 a week before tax. She's just told the Prime Minister and me what it's going to mean for her family. It's going to mean extra financial support so that she can have those critical early months at home with her baby, otherwise of course, it would have meant going back to work more quickly than she might have otherwise done.
For those parents who haven't been working and may not be eligible for paid parental leave, of course the baby bonus and family tax benefit continue for them because we do understand how important it is to provide support for parents whether they've been in the workforce or not.
Today is a very exciting day for all Australian families, the first time that we have a national paid parental leave scheme.
PM: Just before we take questions, and we'll be happy to do so, I just wanted to say something about the Queensland floods. I yesterday had the opportunity, with Premier Bligh, to go to some of the flood affected communities.
When I was there I announced the Australian Government is making available an emergency disaster relief payment for people who have been badly affected by these floods. We know there are far too many families who have had to leave their homes, they're in evacuation centres, and this disaster relief payment will help them.
It's a payment of emergency relief, $1000 per adult and $400 per child. The hotline that people can ring for information is up and running now, the number is 180 22 66, so I would say to the people of Queensland as they are battling these floods, please remember that number in terms of getting information about that emergency disaster relief payment.
Of course there are a lot more things we're going to do and going to need to do to help Queenslanders with these devastating floods, but the disaster relief payment is there immediately for people, they can make telephone calls now and payments will flow in the coming few days to assist families who are in this situation of moving from their home and needing that extra assistance.
We will of course be working with the Queensland Government through our natural disaster relief and recovery arrangements, which provides further support to families, further support to communities, to businesses affected by these floods. We're still directly battling floodwaters, we haven't seen the peak of the flood yet at centres like Rockhampton, so the people of Queensland in many places are doing it tough today, and our thoughts are with them.
Very happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister what's your message to businesses who may decide to roll-back their own paid parental leave scheme as a result of the Government's measures?
PM: I would say to those businesses that extending benefits to their staff, their highly skill staff, that keep them connected to that employer as they have their family, is good for business. We know businesses around the country value their skilled staff. I meet with a lot of business leaders and I often ask them the question, ‘what's the most important thing about your business?' And without exception, they say to me the most important thing about their business is their staff, the skills and capacities their staff bring.
And so keeping their own parental leave schemes, adding it to the Government's paid parental leave scheme, is a great way of keeping that bonded connection between employer and a skilled staff member, who's gone for some family responsibilities but who will want to come back to work and the employer will want the benefit of those skills.
JOURNALIST: So are trusting employers to do the right thing, is it possible they could be fined for winding back entitlements?
PM: What we're saying to employers is it's good for business to keep this connection with their staff, the Government is making available a paid parental leave scheme, but obviously there are businesses around the country that have already seen the sense of extending to their staff the benefit of paid parental leave, and what made them think that was a good thing to do still stands, it's about a connection between them and their staff, getting people back to work at the appropriate time, back bringing their skills into the business.
JOURNALIST: Today there's an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about the school chaplaincy scheme, suggesting that the service that's provided is inadequate. Are you concerned about that and are you happy that the Commonwealth Ombudsman will do enough to rectify some of the problems or make recommendations to rectify the problems?
PM: The school chaplaincy scheme is a great scheme and because we think it's such a good scheme we promised at the election last year to extend it. I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of chaplains and go to a lot of schools and get the feedback that school chaplains provide that extra bit of pastoral care which can often make a real difference in a child's life.
Now obviously, like all other Government programs, there are quality standards and monitoring and expectations about what are to be achieved be chaplains in schools, so we'll continue to keep monitoring but the feedback from schools communities about school chaplains is overwhelmingly positive.
JOURNALIST: Should there be a set of national guidelines for these chaplains, should they adhere to national guidelines?
PM: This is a national program, there are national arrangements for this program, including national arrangements and expectations about the roles that chaplains play in schools, but I'd have to say feedback is overwhelmingly positive from school communities.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the high court challenge that's been launched into the program may fail then?
PM: Look I'm not going to comment on the potential outcome of legal case, but school chaplains are very welcome in school communities and the reason we decided to extend the program is schools around the country were saying they wanted the benefit of this program, they wanted to see more of this kind of pastoral care available in schools.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister the floods in Queensland (inaudible) impact on the mining industry up there, we also impacts on the share market yesterday, what's the economic impacts (inaudible) how concerned (inaudible)
PM: Clearly the devastation being caused by these floods is going to have an economic impact. You're right to point to the impact on mining, a number of mining companies have effectively used the force majeure clauses in their contracts, they've had to say to the people who buy their minerals that at this time circumstances are such that they can't keep supply moving. Even those mines that could continue to mine obviously have got difficulties with supply routes because so many roads have been affected and transport routes have been affected.
There will be other economic impacts for farmers, for small businesses in townships that rely on business and trade and tourism, so we'll have to work our way through that and we will do so with the Queensland Government. We're not at the stage yet where we can put a figure on it, we need of course to deal with the immediate circumstance and then, as floodwaters recede, we will be able to assess the degree of the damage and we'll continue working with the Queensland Government and local government through that, because local government is right there on the frontline as communities face these kinds of circumstances.
As for the Government Budget, we will bring the Budget back to surplus in 2012/13 as promised, we will manage appropriately to ensure that that occurs.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Tony Abbott has this morning called for the Government to explain why two Alcatel executives are running the NBN? Do you think this needs to be examined?
PM: Look Tony Abbott said to Malcolm Turnbull when he appointed him spokesperson about the NBN, ‘do anything you can to destroy it.' And what we're seeing today from the Opposition and in recent days is scraping the bottom of the barrel to try and do that. This is a personal smear against a highly regarded businessman, actually an Australian recognised for his telecommunications expertise around the world.
So I'd say to Tony Abbott, and I'd say to the Opposition in general: get out of the politics of smear.
They may be in denial about the future about the NBN, they may want to keep saying to Australians, ‘don't go into the future, stay in the past, chuck your mobile phone out, throw your computer out, go and get yourself a tin can'. Tony Abbott might want to say that to Australians, but he shouldn't be smearing people along the way.
JOURNALIST: But no doubt it's another headache for the Government in trying to sell the NBN to the public and try and sell the amount of money that the NBN will cost to roll-out?
PM: I think the only thing that's coming out of this is something about Tony Abbott, not about anything else.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister what are you going to tell the Australian cricket team this afternoon?
PM: Well I will be welcoming them for afternoon tea, both the Australian and the English cricket teams, so I'll be passing round the sandwiches and wishing them well.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister just before Christmas and in recent days it's been in East Timor media about wanting to have Australian troops pulled out in 2012, has there been approach with the Australian Government or any discussions about this at all?
PM: Look I've seen those reports and obviously we do work through proper processes when the East Timorese Government forms a view about force deployment, but before any decisions are made we would work through a proper process with the East Timorese Government, with the United Nations. Obviously the Australian Government would be involved as would the New Zealand Government. So all of those formal processes are yet to come, and we'd respond to full communications from the East Timorese Government.
JOURNALIST: Has there been any approach to the Government by East Timor (inaudible)
PM: Look there's been, obviously, these statements in the media. I have not received specifically, a brief in this Christmas period about such an approach. But should such an approach be received say at local Post level, then we will work through it in the proper processes.
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